Bail denial for Kurdish journalist accused of being PKK indicts anti-democratic laws

July 28, 2016

Brusk Aeiveri. Sydney Central Local Court, July 29. Photo: Peter Boyle.

For the second day in a row, family, friends and supporters of Renas Lelikan – the Kurdish journalist charged under Australia's draconian anti-terrorism laws with being a member of a proscribed “terrorist organisation”, the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) – filed into Court Room 2 at the Sydney Central Local Court on July 29. The maximum sentence for this offence is a 10-year prison sentence.

We were there to hear the magistrate deliver her decision on Lelikan's bail application.

Once again the public gallery was full.

Our mood was sombre and wary. It lifted a little when we saw Lelikan appear on the video-link from Silverwater Prison where he has been kept in a high security unit since his arrest on July 20.

Lelikan was again dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffed. He raised his manacled hands, gave us a two-handed peace sign and smiled. His sister was in the public gallery and, on the edge of tears, she waved back.

But our brief joy was steadily crushed as the magistrate delivered her findings. First, she summarised in some detail the positions put by the prosecution's and Lelikan's barristers. It seemed to me that she did a better job than the prosecution barrister by raising more information that made the case against Lelikan appear stronger. This extra information had been submitted by the prosecution the previous day in supporting documents but had not been mentioned by the prosecuting barrister in his oral submission.

The magistrate then reiterated that under the terrorism laws, bail would automatically be denied unless the accused could show “exceptional circumstances”. This is just one legal provision that really indicts Australia's terrorism laws as being deeply anti-democratic and unjust.

She went on to reject all eight elements of Lelikan's legal team's case that there were exceptional circumstance” in this case. The fact that the PKK was fighting IS was deemed irrelevant to the law. “Our enemy's enemy is not necessarily our friend,” she added.

The fact that Lelikan will probably be kept in virtual solitary confinement for months or even a year before an actual trial on his charge would take place was also said to be “unexceptional”.

The fact that he is not considered a threat to the public or accused of any violent act was also considered unexceptional.

Even more incredibly, the fact that Lelikan is surrounded by others charged with terrorism offenses who are expressing sympathy for IS and who are threatening and taunting him day and night, was also not considered “exceptional”.

Lelikan looked on impassively when the magistrate concluded that bail was refused.

His family and supporters staggered out in shock but eventually we regained some resolve when his legal team reported that he had requested that they launch an appeal to the Supreme Court against the denial of bail. This appeal will probably be heard in sometime in October.

Our discussion then turned to the need to launch a strong political campaign for the release of Lelikan and against the unfair listing of the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Kurdish community spokesperson Brusk Aeiveri then fronted the media waiting outside the court, announcing Lelikan's intention to lodge and appeal against denial of bail. “Renas is not a terrorist”, he declared, “let the Australian public be the judge.”

[In March 2015, the Melbourne-based group Australians for Kurdistan launched a sign-on petition campaign to remove the PKK from the Australian government's list of terrorist groups. Check the website here.]

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